Archive for February, 2008

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Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. – Crystal Rainbow Pyramid Under The Stars

February 26, 2008

I guess this week has been astronaut week or something? First The Orb, and now this. Hmm.

I miss when all bands released albums every year or two, instead of leaving big four or five year gaps between albums. The wait isn’t always worth it. Yeah, if the album ends up being excellent, then there is nothing to complain about, but back in the 60s and 70s, bands cranked out albums at breakneck paces, because it was their job and that’s just what they did to put bread on the table. The industry has changed. Now, we often wait four years for an album that sucks. It really impresses me that bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin released one or two albums a year with such consistent quality. And I’ll apologize, because mentioning the kitschy Japanese psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple in the same paragraph as The Beatles or Led Zeppelin is a sin. But I’m a sinner. So are these guys. Gluttony. Lust. Pride maybe?

Acid Mothers Temple are a noise rock band that don’t really make music with song structure. They mostly solo over sheets of hard noise and vintage space age sound effects. And the solos aren’t that great. I’d call them trashy. But at the very least, Acid Mothers Temple know who they are, and they won’t pretend to be anything else. They just aren’t quite up with the times. Not that that’s bad or anything. They are probably just completely stoned. I wish I could give them a time machine so they could go back in time and do damage three or four decades ago. I think they would enjoy that.

Crystal Rainbow Pyramid Under The Stars does not do anything different than the bands previous albums, but it arguably does them better, and it is much more well produced. The other Acid Mothers Temple albums sound extremely rough in terms of production, and Crystal Rainbow Pyramid smoothens things out a bit in that respect. The album consists of three songs that continuously get more progressive and impressive as they go along. The opening Pussy Head Man From Outer Space is reminiscent of Electric Love Machine from the bands most popular album, Univers Zen Ou De Zero a Zero, in that it is a short rocker with a mildly cognisible progression. It is the shortest song on the album, but that isn’t saying a lot, because it clocks in at about 7:42. The albums self titled song comes next, and it is over twenty minutes. Which isn’t that bad, really. It’s a nice, slow, groovy song, and it changes things up a lot. But by this time, we start to ask ourselves if it is really necessary to have songs this long. These grooves could have lasted half as long and been just as effective, and the lengths feel like they were achieved for the sake of quantity.

Nothing says this more than the albums meatiest song, the final forty minute long epic Electric Psilocybin Flashback. It opens with an eastern guitar riff that reoccurs throughout the song in order to segment it, but really, it is a boring riff that sounds tired after one minute. The song doesn’t really do anything new or exciting, bar some fun saxophone solos that drift in and out that could have probably been given their own song. In all honesty, this song is mediocre enough to be a b-side. And it’s forty minutes long. Go figure. At the very least it will please AMT fans though, and if you enjoy noise rock, it will glide over your ears and have you grooving along for at least around fifteen minutes before it starts to piss you off.

I enjoy Acid Mothers Temple way more than any other noise act out there, and in that way this album was worth it to me. It isn’t a huge accomplishment of 2007, but if you are even considering Acid Mothers Temple, you probably know what kind of music you are in for. If not, the best introduction is Univers. It is the best album, the most digestible and fun, and really, you don’t need anything else. Crystal Rainbow Pyramid Under The Stars isn’t even comparable to Univers, but it definitely isn’t a failure. I like it. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. And I’d say it probably satisfied AMT themselves thoroughly, and that might be what matters most.

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The Orb- The Orb's Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld

February 24, 2008

One of the first Intelligent Dance Music albums to tear through the club scene, English electronic duo The Orb’s ambitious debut, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, sounds as fresh as it did back in 1991. This may be because it’s influence is widespread, or possibly because it’s vintage portrayal of space age psychedelia is of the classic breed that forever runs parallel to the passing of time. The Orb take the kitschy concepts of movies with flying saucers and giant starfish aliens and douses them in lysergic acid diethylamide until they can’t remember what bore them. The resulting album is one that can be had fun with as much as taken seriously, and is as abrasive as it is relaxing. This is the classic contradiction of IDM, but it is a contradiction that The Orb utilizes to the utmost. They capitalize on atmosphere just as much as club friendly beats. The opening Little Fluffy Clouds just might be the most lovable and sexy. It is the start of a grand journey, and after the opening cock-a-doodle-doo, the listener is transported up into the stratosphere, past planes, funky synthesizers, and fun vocal samples. Just about every song is similarly fascinating and unique. I can only imagine what listening to this album on drugs would be like. I would think it would begin to sound like the holy grail of modern music, but to the sober ear, some of the sound effects are no more than appreciably silly. This, however, does not stop the better effects from being downright amazing. The album hits its atmospheric highpoint with Backside of the Moon, a slow progression of eastern beats infused with a floaty backdrop of running water, twinkling stars, and strange vocal samples. One would think with high points like this, the album just couldn’t be consistently awesome, but it is, and even into the second disk, the songs have surprising clarity, such as the reggae infused Perpetual Dawn, and the gloriously energetic Into The Fourth Dimension. However, the albums conclusion, A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld, is the most interesting of all, and the perfect way to end. It needs to be heard to be believed. After listening to The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, you have traveled millions of miles, and seen things that no one has ever seen. Err, maybe. At the very least, you have gotten about as close to being high as you have ever gotten without actually ingesting or snorting something illegal. And you have also heard probably the best IDM album this side of Selected Ambient Works 85-92, and I would say also the sexiest album of all time.

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Wilco Concert

February 18, 2008
I saw Wilco live at the Riviera two nights ago. The Riviera is a nice venue. I saw Rilo Kiley there a couple months ago. A friend and I stood outside in the cold from five thirty until seven when the doors opened, and up by the very front on the floor next to the stage until eight thirty when the band played. There was no opening act.
In a nutshell, this very well could have been the best concert I have been to. Neil Young may have been a religious experience, and Dream Theater had more energy, but I definitely had more fun with Wilco than anyone else. Although I would consider myself a fairly new Wilco fan, only having listened to them for a year or two, I would still say that I know them well enough to recognize a lot of their songs, and enjoy the stuff I don’t recognize. With that said, the setlist was pretty solid. The first ten songs or so I recognized immediately from the bands more popular albums, A Ghost Is Born, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and Summerteeth. They got a lot of the crowd pleasers out of the way first, but they didn’t run out of steam. They should have, though, because they started to play the more obscure stuff near the middle of the show.
The deal with these Wilco shows in Chicago is that they are trying to play every song on each of their studio albums throughout the five nights. This does not mean they won’t play any repeats throughout the five nights. But it does mean that they have to dig back into the back catalogue, including the Mermaid Avenue albums, and play some of the really obscure stuff. They played many of Wilco’s most popular songs, especially in the first half. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Handshake Drugs, Hell Is Chrome, A Shot In The Arm, and Heavy Metal Drummer all made their appearances to booming crowd approval. In general, they spread out their setlist evenly between albums. The most attention was given to the bands double album Being There. And an unusual amount of material was played from their first album, the country styled AM. By the time they hit a lot of said obscure songs on Saturday, they had a counter weapon to keep everyone on their toes.
Andrew Bird.
That’s right, the whistler, fiddler, and folk singer closest to our heart showed up and played with Wilco for seven songs, starting with the crowd pleasing singalong Jesus Etc. His appearance was relaxed. He donned a stylish pink scarf. His presence was subtle, but ultimately appreciated, and he got a tremendous response from the audience despite how quiet and underspoken he was.
But in the grand scheme of things, Mr. Bird was peripheral (as much as we love him!). The core members of Wilco are as wonderful as ever. Jeff Tweedy has an unspoken bond with his Chicago audience that is clearly present, and his audience is completely vocal about their love for him. Although Tweedy is quiet and reserved on stage, he knows how to have fun and give the audience what they want. Upon straining some of his highest notes, he gives the audience a wink of recognition before his sharp ascent. Nels Cline is an amazing guitarist. His stage presence is perhaps the most felt out of the entire band. His towering figure spastically moves, sways, and convulses randomly as his fingers fly up and down his fretboard. His solos can be incendiary, but he has a certain control that is also appreciable. On many of the songs played a steel guitar on his lap with great restraint. Bassist John Stirrat and jack of all trades Pat Sansone are also particularly energetic on stage when they feel the need to be, and Mikael Jorgensen is the icing on the cake, the always present detailing that gives the live sound it’s density. But what pushes the band over the edge in their live performances is without a doubt drummer Glenn Kotche. By three songs in, he was sweating like a pig and slamming his kit as if it was the last chance he would ever get. His energy is always outward, and he makes the band’s live repetoire what it is. And there is nothing quite like seeing his cacophonous freakout during Via Chicago.

There is something to be said about watching a band play whose members would clearly rather be no where else in the world than where they are at that moment. This is the way that Wilco presented themselves on Saturday, and when a bands energy is that positive, and the audiences enthusiasm is equally as high, the energy bounces back and forth between both parties. Wilco were playing on a Saturday night in their hometown, so they were already enthusiastic about the performance, and even the more low key songs were greeted with enthusiasm from the band and audience alike. About midway through the show, a drunken idiot pushed past me in the middle of Heavy Metal Drummer, and proceeded to make his way even farther to the front of the crowd, at which point he was greeted with resistance from the fans in front of us. He was talked down by a big burly guy, who Jeff Tweedy eyed lightly throughout the song, smiling. Afterwards he complemented the big guy on how beautifully he handled the situation, at which point he and the drunken idiot were clearly buddies, playing it up. He said that we shouldn’t beat up the drunken idiots of the world, and that we should be their friends. It’s funny that even the drunken idiotic Wilco fans are nice enough.

The crowd was very nice, much nicer than the crowd that was there for Rilo Kiley. Wilco fans seem to be, for the most part, in their thirties or even forties, and really there weren’t any horrible people, except one guy behind me who was completely smashed and maybe high, who wouldn’t stop clapping his hands and hitting my hair. I can’t blame him though. It’s a big target, and I can imagine anyone who stands behind me in a concert would be pretty pissed off. But we met up with a friend there, and stood next to a nice knowledgeable couple and later on a cool guy from New York who I had a good conversation with.

What we came to the conclusion about is that Wilco is possibly the greatest American band active today. Their music feels genuinely American. They know how to add texture and a classical folk feel to their music through acoustic guitars and pianos, and yet they know how to tear through their music live and make their music more rocking and abrasive than one might expect. I don’t think I really knew how much I liked Wilco until I finally got ahold of the band’s live album, Kicking Television. While the songs do stand alone on their studio albums, it is really impossible to get an accurate picture of what the band are really like unless you hear, and ideally see, them live. Highly recommended.

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February Sucks. Horribly.

February 8, 2008

I’m going to have to seriously nominate it for worst month of the year. Bad shit always happens during February. The first problem is that it is the heart of winter, so it is either always subzero, or just warm enough to snow like crazy outside. I don’t know how much snow we have gotten in the past week. Enough to get two snow days. And I had a day off last week due to sickness too. It’s just as well, because school has been miserable lately. The classes suck, for the most part. I still have the large chunk of time in the morning where I don’t actually have to focus. But save maybe two or three classes, my day is mostly nasty crap. My gym class has gotten unbearable, but any attempt I make to switch out of it is in vain. It’s ironic that this last semester, that should be coasting as far as classes go, has to be so miserable, and have such a huge workload that is ultimately unrewarding as far as learning goes. It was destined to be miserable. I guess you only get as much as you put into your classes, but I can only put in so much with getting nothing back before I draw the line.

The basic idea at my school is this. If you are a Senior and you obey a simple attendance contract, keep up fairly good grades, and don’t do a Senior prank, you don’t have to take finals second semester. I find it to be some kind of constant reminder of a compromise that was made however many years ago it was. I can imagine it being a spiritual loss for both the school and the students. At any rate, what this compromise does is make second semester 100% drama. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. People are passing out “senior surveys” like crazy. It is the survey where you vote people “most likely to be a millionaire,” “cutest couple,” and “biggset spaz.” It’s pretty representative of how the school operates at this point. It is a clever way to label people, and a not so clever way for people to try to cling onto this school, and to make themselves remembered in the yearbook.

I want no nominate myself “most likely to be found on a raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean that is on the exact opposite side of the world as this school.”

But February was never any good in the first place. The big holiday is Valentine’s Day, which is the biggest crock of shit of all the holidays. I hardly have to explain why. It’s just a big corporate joke. It disgusts me. And not just because I am a troll living in a cave that is devoid of any love, and wishes to spread his grumpiness throughout the land. For the past two years I have listened to Loveless at full blast on Valentine’s Day. I would like to make it a tradition. My mother had no problem with it last year, which is weird, because she usually yells at me for volumes which I consider completely innocuous emenating from my stereo. However, last year, I would consider the volume of that album playing through my speakers to be dangerous. I mean, I was pushing the threshold of the knob. It’s a great experience. I suggest you all do it sometime, and what better time for My Bloody Valentine than Valentine’s Day?

I guess President’s Day is alright. I’d rather we didn’t have it though. Maybe we get the day off, and if that is the case, then it’s kosher with me, but I would much rather celebrate individual birthdays, of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. And Ronald Reagan I guess. You see? On President’s day, I have to observe all of the presidents. Even the shitty ones.

About 75% of what I have been listening to for the past two weeks is Massive Attack. I have decided that Mezzanine has no bad tracks, and the band has no bad albums. They still have their little hurdles that stop them from being one of my favorite bands, and I wouldn’t consider two of their albums great per se (Blue Lines and 100th Window). But christ, can they work a beat with sophistication. Their knack for creating an atmosphere with simple tools is something that very few other bands possess. And once again, their two best albums, Mezzanine and Protection, are unstoppable. And they are talking about a new album this year. So is Portishead, who I also adore. These could be some very exciting releases for 2008. I’ll keep an ear open and let you guys know how they are.

I finished The Fellowship of the Ring. I’m pretty convinced that book two is going to be easier. I’m going to finish this thing, for sure. So long as I find time. I think I had better uninstall AIM if I ever want to get anything done in the rest of this school year.

And that last sentence? That’s very important. That is probably my biggest problem right now. Or at least the other stuff that entails.

Later

-Alex

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Autechre – Chiastic Slide

February 4, 2008

It is easy to say that Chiastic Slide is the point where Autechre decided to be experimental, but everything is relative when you talk about arguably the most progressive electronic artists of our time. Every Autechre album is a departure from what came before it, and every song feels like a disconnect from what preceded it. The band has always been decidedly focused on covering new ground, moreso than honing any of their countless styles. Even what fans consider to be the most perfectly formed album from the duo, Tri Repetae, is not completely certain of itself. Tri Repetae rushed headstrong into new ground, but new ground that could be considered accessible, and with hesitation. A follow up was going to be daunting no matter what, and Chiastic Slide ends up being about as striking as any other Autechre album, stylistically different, but delivering the around the same amount of positive yield and disappointment.

In that sense, it is unique, but naggingly inconsistent and incomplete. Also like all Autechre albums, it jettisons its ideas from its boundaries towards a gravitational origin that it always curves around and misses, but this time it gets closer than usual. There are a handful of songs that could be considered among the bands best, but surprisingly none that could be considered among their worst. The new sounds that are utilized here are compelling, as usual, sometimes adhering to their purposes and other times straying from them. Warm crunches that sound like snow crumbling under heavy boots comprise a considerable amount of the albums lower bass sounds, electronic scrambles run rampant, and wheezes and kitten mews randomly dot songs with some sort of vulnerability.

All in a days work for Autechre, throwing new sounds at the listener, but Chiastic Slide does end up being fairly song based, at least as much as Tri Repetae. The opening Clipater consists of two futuristic funk tunes, the first of which develops into the second almost unrecognizably to the passive ear. The last track, Nuane, follows a similar approach, a lengthy mechanical ass swinger that develops little by little for over ten minutes. Yes, the lengths are imposing, and the beats and hooks get tired. Autechre unfortunately don’t know how to end their songs very well, and their methods of segmentation are not completely effective. But these are some of Autechre’s most consistently interesting songs, and that makes up for the continued delay on the band picking up on their mistakes and pitfalls. Recury is also a standout, the most beat driven and alternatively relaxing of the entire album. The best song is Cichli, which resonates of the style that would punctuate the next album, LP5. The beat is continuous, heavy, fast paced, and danceable, and the synth line is melodic and interesting. Never has a cold Autechre synthesizer felt this full of life. This makes Cichli feel a little out of place when compared to the rest of the songs, most all of which feel cold and ultimately contrived. Autechre nail this song perfectly, hitting the spirit of the machine at it’s core, and even the near ten minute length doesn’t feel meandered on.

This is when the band is the most successful, when at least partially adhering to rhythm and melody. The rest of the songs usually only adhere to one of the two, and their repetition is their downfall. Some beats just shouldn’t be held for as long as they are, especially when they have almost no recognizable rhythm, and some of the melodies are too atonal to be interesting. However, the songs that aren’t always the most satisfying, Tewe, Hub, Calbruc, and Pule, seem to point towards LP5, so there is at least direction and consistency in the experimentation, and chances are they will strike fans as fun or interesting.

This probably isn’t the best Autechre album, and it sure isn’t the most digestible or consistent, but there is something here that gives the individual tracks more soul than can be seen anywhere else in the bands discography. Even Tri Repetae and Incunabula, although nuanced and fun, often times felt sterile, but Chiastic Slide feels fertile with ideas, and for the first time, sure of itself. Never have I seen an electronic artist, or scarcely a band, as frustrating as Autechre. Their albums are always just interesting and complex enough for me to approach them on a higher level, but just too far away from what they should be in terms of quality. I do keep on coming back to them though, for some reason, something subliminal that I can’t put into words or even fully understand myself. I have probably had more fun exploring Chiastic Slide than the other albums. This is because although Chiastic Slide is the usual beautiful mess, it somehow feels essential to Autechre’s body of work, a notion that their other albums constantly struggle with.